As any attorney will tell you, owning your own law firm is not easy. Speaking with clients, preparing for trial, and trying to manage a busy practice is difficult enough, but the business aspect of your practice can be just as challenging. If you are like most lawyers, you are very aware of the fact that owning and managing a website is a critical part of your business, because the advent of digital technology has completely changed the way the average client researches, contacts, and hires an attorney, regardless of the area of law in which an attorney specializes.
Moreover, as more and more people integrate internet-connected devices into every aspect of their lives, clients will demand even more information about lawyers than they already have access to, prior to hiring them. This shift in client behavior has caused the legal industry to be flooded with lawyer web design and digital marketing companies, and this trend is expect to continue as more and more Americans become active internet users.
If you Google the number of internet users in the U.S., you will find that over 78% of the population in our country were using the internet in 2011, and Google is currently processing around 5.5 billion searches every day. As a result, regardless of where an attorney is located, what time of day it is, or how established a lawyer is within their community, potential clients will undoubtedly evaluate a lawyer online prior to contacting a law firm for a consultation.
Since every lawyer is almost required to have a website in order to attract new clients, there are numerous ways for lawyers to build and manage a website. The most common of which is by utilizing a content management system (CMS). Like most products, not all CMS platforms are alike, and choosing a CMS that is either too complex or incompatible with your online ambitions can be a costly mistake.
What Does CMS Stand For?
CMS stands for content management system, and it is a type of software that is used by law firms, law practitioners, and other businesses to manage their website’s online content. To be clear, owning and operating a website usually involves two services, hosting and CMS. Hosting services such as Godaddy, Bluehost, and Siteground own computer servers that store the content your website displays. A CMS is used to create the code and content for your website.
Both of these services often work together to provide you with everything you need to build and manage your website on a long-term basis. The value a CMS offers businesses, merchants, and average people is demonstrated by the fact that a CMS allows an average person to build a basic website with very little or no computer coding skills or training.
Common CMS Features
Although there are many CMS platforms to choose from, there are some features that any decent CMS application should have, one of which is easy access with the ability to establish permission levels for different users. The beauty of most CMS applications is that they allow you to work on your website from any place with an internet connection. Moreover, similar to a case management system, you can set different permission levels for different users. This feature enables each member of your staff to have different access levels that give them the ability to modify, create, or review content.
Common tasks such as adding frequently asked questions, new images, and interactive pages can be done collaboratively online, and this constant flow of new content and features will enable people to use your website easily. Keep in mind, the more visitors interact with a website powered by a CMS that targets the needs of the end-user, the longer they will spend on your website. This establishes the loyalty, knowledge, and trust factors that makes your prospective clients turn into paying clients who are excited to work with you. Other must-have features include:
- Social Media Integration: Most CMS platforms allow you to create social media buttons that allow users to view your social media profiles or share content from your website on their own social media profiles. When you consider the fact that a platform like Facebook has over 2 billion monthly active users, it becomes clear to all attorneys that connecting your social media account to your website is must-have feature.
- Powerful Publishing Tools: Almost all CMS applications allow you to create and publish content. However, good CMS platforms for lawyers allows them to create and publish it easily, because the software developers realize that lawyers do not have the time to learn how to write computer code. Therefore, you should look at how easy it is to create and design new content on any CMS you’re thinking of using. You should also evaluate the amount of time needed to master using the CMS software itself.
- Analytics Integration: Although some CMS applications might include basic analytics software, attorneys need sophisticated analytics software due to the nature of their industry. As such, any CMS platform you choose should allow you to integrate it with a major analytics program like Google Analytics. This will allow you to see how users are interacting with your website, the location of your website’s visitors, and your website’s bounce rate; all of which can be used to constantly improve your website’s conversion rate.
How to Choose a CMS
Although there may be some features that many CMS applications have in common, there are many stark differences between the host of different CMS platforms you might evaluate in the marketplace. A lawyer’s first and most important goal should be to evaluate a CMS platform based on the individual needs of their current practice and the rate at which they anticipate their practice will grow in the future.
If you are a solo practitioner who doesn’t intend on hiring additional lawyers or expanding the depth of your practice area(s), than you wouldn’t want an extremely sophisticated CMS platform with a giant list of features that you will never use. In contrast, a law firm with more than one attorney and the intention to grow in the future might seek out a CMS application that can accommodate the sophisticated website needed for an expanding practice.
Regardless of your current or long-term goals, there are five factors that every attorney should use to evaluate a CMS application.
- Ease of use
- Level of technical support
- A usable Application Programming Interface (API)
Easy to Use CMS
Have you ever used a program that had a ton of features but was too complex to get anything accomplished? If you are like most lawyers, the answer is probably yes. By now, you are probably well aware that every person at your firm has varying levels of technological skill, so you need to choose a platform that can be easily used by you and your staff with a minimal amount of training. The heart of operating a CMS application is being able to effectively use features such as:
- File managers
- Audit logs
- Permission systems
- Installation wizards
- Administrative panels
So, as you are viewing a demo or looking at a CMS platform online, ask yourself how easy is this to use? Does it look extremely complex? The answer to these questions will save you and your staff a lot of trouble after you begin building your website.
Cost is a factor in every aspect of your practice, and choosing a CMS is no exception. As stated, you can count on having to pay for hosting and CMS access costs immediately, but the good news is that most CMS platforms and hosting services are affordable. For example, hosting through Bluehost can range from $4.95 per month for 12 months for a basic membership, to $18.95 per month for 12 months for a prime membership.
Hosting services are generally based on storage space, so you want to make sure and look at how much storage space the hosting plan offers prior to entering into a contract. CMS platforms like WordPress—which is probably the most user friendly and versatile CMS platform available—costs about $25 per month. You can run into additional charges if you elect to use premium plugins and features that are offered on a CMS, but these extras are usually affordable and well worth the extra cost.
Technical Support for CMS
Can you get the help you need if you encounter problems with the CMS software or website code? The answer to this question is extremely important, because you or your staff will inevitably encounter a problem at some point. As such, if the CMS platform you use does not offer 24/7 technical support, you could be left with a problem that you can’t fix until the next business day. This can hurt your business and your rankings on Google.
That is why technical support is a mandatory feature of any good CMS application. Moreover, the CMS platform should offer how-to videos and blog posts on common issues. It should also have enough users to support a large, healthy amount of online forums for users to discuss problems, features, etc.
Versatile CMS Applications
As a lawyer, you want to offer potential clients legal information that is presented through different types of content such as videos, blog posts, images, form submissions, and live chats. Due to this, you don’t want to use a CMS application that is limited, and as a result, limits the your website’s potential.
As such, you need to look at the versatility of the CMS platform that you are going to use. Does it integrate with other programs and applications? Does it offer premium features and plugins that will meet your needs? These are just a few of the CMS versatility questions that you should be asking throughout the evaluation process.
Application Programming Interfaces (API) for CMS
An application programming interface (API) is a code that allows two software programs to communicate. When evaluating a CMS platform, you want to a platform with an API that is as open as possible. It will let as many programs as possible to communicate with your CMS. This allows you to incorporate features that will make your website more useful for the user and increase your website’s SEO ranking. Two common APIs used on attorney websites are :
- Google maps API: Allows website owners to embed Google maps on webpages
- Youtube API: Allows website owners embed functioning Youtube videos into their websites
If your CMS platform’s API is limited, then you may not be able to incorporate features developed and offered by companies such as Google, Youtube, or other content development companies into the structure of your website.
Types of CMS and Most-Used CMS
Of the many CMS applications available to attorneys, there are a few that stand out from the rest. That is because they either meet the majority of the evaluation factors discussed, or offer a benefit that could be highly important to certain lawyers.
- WordPress: WordPress is the most popular CMS program among solo practitioners and small & medium size law firms, but it is powerful enough to be used by major corporations like The New Yorker and BBC America. This platform is easy to use, has plenty of integrations, and offers a framework that is used by law firms nationwide. Moreover, WordPress offers 24/7 technical support, how-to videos, and online forums with a base cost of about $25 per month for businesses.
- Lawlytics: Lawlytics is a CMS platform that is designed specifically for legal professionals. A membership with Lawlytics costs about $200 per month and includes their hosting service. There is a one-time setup or transfer fee that is dependent on the type of website you want to build or transfer to the platform. It does offer the must-have features including social media and analytics integration. Two major drawbacks to this platform are its lack of 24/7 technical support and a limited amount of extra integration options.
- Scorpion: Scorpion is a CMS platform that has been around for quite some time. This company touts a flexible easy-to-use platform that can be used to create responsive websites for attorneys. The catch? The price might be a sticking point. Due to the size and age of the company, the Scorpion platform can be expensive, and the company does not post their prices publicly online nor do they indicate their platform’s ability to integrate with other programs online. So, if you are considering Scorpion, you will have to schedule a demo to fully evaluate this platform.
- Drupal: Drupal is an open source CMS platform that offers a wide range of integration features, although it does not have quite as many as WordPress. Drupal is also a more complex platform than Lawlytics or WordPress. As a result, if you don’t have computer or coding skills, it can be difficult for you to use Drupal effectively. Despite its drawbacks, Drupal is used by government entities such as whitehouse.gov, and both Drupal and WordPress are recommended for lawyers by the American Bar Association.
- Firmwise: Firmwise is similar to Lawlytics in that the CMS platform is built specifically for the lawyers. Firmwise does offer some unique features such as PDF bio printing, virtual business cards, trackable page sharing, and proposal generation. Moreover, this platform offers 24/7 technical support, and can accommodate law firms of all sizes. Unfortunately, you will have to schedule a demo to determine the cost of this platform, and as with Lawlytics, you may find that the integration options and features for this platform are limited when compared to other larger CMS applications.
CMS Website Design for Attorneys
The question that always arises among lawyers who are looking to use a CMS platform and build a website is, “Should I use a website designer?” The answer to this question is different for every attorney, but consider this: While CMS platforms are great for building basic websites on your own, each CMS platform requires coding knowledge to build more complex websites, and website designers structure your website to rank based on SEO factors.
Using a basic website to market your law firm diminishes the chances of your website ranking well on Google. That is because Google ranks websites based on hundreds of factors, most of which revolve around the quality of a website. Website designers study the known factors Google uses, and they design your website to be appealing to both users and search engines through SEO techniques.
Most attorneys hire a website designer to build and establish their website properly in the beginning. After the website is built and formatted to leverage Google’s ranking factors, the attorney manages and adds content to their website on a regular basis. This strategy works, because the website designer has already created a SEO-based foundation for the website from the beginning.
CMS Website Designers in Miami, FL
At On The Map Marketing, our team of website designers can help you build a website that will allow your law firm to attract new clients and grow. We offer a host of other online marketing services for attorneys as well, including SEO, PPC, local listing optimization, and more. So, if you still have questions about which CMS is right for you, call us today to speak with a web design specialist.